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Many of us buy products and services online and its always a good idea to look at reviews of the company and their products/services before choosing what to buy. Surveys suggest that more than half of the adults in Britain, around 25 million people, use online reviews such as on  Amazon, eBAY, Tripadvisor, Foursquare and Checkatrade to provide confidence in the product/service/person, avoid bad items and find the best deals.

We rely on those reviews being honest – by people who have actually used the relevant product or service and telling about their experience objectively.

But, some companies cheat – they pay others to create fake reviews  in order to get more business. Sometimes they try to cover up bad reviews by posting lots of fake positive reviews and so on. This distorts the situation and is dishonest. If a company ‘distorts’ online reviews then they are in breach of the Consumer Protection Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

The Competition and Markets Authority says that shoppers who use the internet to research hotels, books, electronics and other purchases are being routinely misled by millions of fake reviews orchestrated by companies to trick potential customers.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between genuine consumer review and fake ones. Consumer expert Kaitlyn Wells (ConsumerReports.org) says you can easily spot illegitimate reviews when they either are too gushy or are too negative, while failing to explain how they came to their conclusions about a product.

Why are these reviews so important?

Experts on the power of customer reviews believe that the presence of good reviews can convert prospects into  sales three times better than without such reviews and increasingly people search for reviews and may ignore sites that don’t have them.

This problem of distortion is not new. Magazine reviews have always been a little suspect as it is well known that the reviewers are given free products and sometimes trips to great places to review the products. So is their opinion completely unaffected?

Also, the bloggers and vloggers who do product reviews face this problem as their opinions can carry a lot of weight but they are commonly offered free products to test.  Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Amazon

Amazon reviews were designed to counter this problems with bias, by getting  the consumers to write about their experiences. It’s a great idea until people start to misuse it.  Amazon says the reviews are good as long as the reviewers are not paid and don’t get any compensation in any form other than free use of the product for the purpose of reviewing.

Amazon has said the their goal is to make reviews as useful as possible for customers and they continue to use a number of mechanisms to detect and remove the small fraction of reviews that violate their guidelines.

Negative Reviews

Some businesses hire online reputation management companies to help them repair damage ‎caused by negative online reviews. These companies use a variety of methods to achieve this aim but anyone using these companies should be aware that creating fake online reviews is illegal so they need to check the methods to be used and not just turn a blind eye.

An investigation by The Times newspaper last year found that hotel owners in the UK were paying up to ‎‎£10,000 to agencies that promised to improve their review rankings.

There are also times when underhand businesses pay for negative reviews of a competitor to be posted on the competitors website. This is clearly very wrong. There are even examples of scammers posting a series of fake negative reviews  against a business then the business is offered a way out of that for a price.

Taking Action to Stop Fake Reviews

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) says that consumers who research hotels, books and other purchases online are being misled by millions of fake reviews orchestrated by businesses to misdirect potential customers.

A CMA investigation into Total SEO & Marketing Ltd, a search engine optimisation and online marketing company, found that between 2014 and 2015 it had written over 800 fake positive reviews for 86 small businesses that were published across 26 different websites which contain customer reviews.

Total SEO has co-operated with the CMA’s consumer law investigation. The company, and its directors, have undertaken to the CMA that they:

·         have ceased the practice of writing fake reviews for their clients; and

·         will take steps to remove the fake reviews already posted online.

In addition to this action, the CMA has written to Total SEO’s clients to warn them that third parties writing fake reviews on their behalf might lead to them breaking the law themselves. The small businesses concerned include car dealers, mechanics, landscape gardeners and other tradespeople.

Government Action

Since June 2015, The UK government Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS)  has been asking the public to provide evidence of instances where online reviews and endorsements may be unlawful. They are expecting further  examples of:-

·         fake reviews being posted onto review sites

·         negative reviews not being published

·         businesses paying for endorsements in blogs and other online articles without this being made clear to consumers

As well as creating new consumer protection rules the Government said it may build new powers to apply civil fines to businesses who do not comply.

 

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